‘Sign of weakness’: Jayapal on cancelled Jaishankar meet

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Published on Dec 25, 2019 11:18 PM IST
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ByYashwant Raj

Indian American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal has said that the cancellation of a meeting external affairs minister S Jaishankar was to have on Capitol Hill during a recent visit on account of her presence was a “sign of weakness” for a “great democracy” like India, and that it was a “missed opportunity”.

Jayapal has been critical of restrictions in place in Kashmir since the August 5 nullification of Article 370. She spoke forcefully against them at two hearings and has moved a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives seeking the lifting of the curbs and protecting religious freedom in India generally.

It is a “sign of weakness for any great democracy to refuse to allow those who have some criticisms to participate in a meeting,” Jayapal has written in an OpEd in the Washington Post on Tuesday about a December 18 meeting cancelled on account of her presence. She added that was a “giant missed opportunity for two countries that value dialogue and dissent”.

Jaishankar was scheduled to separately meet the leaderships of the foreign relations committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate on the sidelines of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue he and defence minister Rajnath Singh held with their American counterparts last week. The meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee was cancelled as the Indians felt Jayapal’s presence would be counter-productive as her position on the issues on the table were well-known, that she had made up her mind already, and that she could use the opportunity to “harangue” the minister. New Delhi has also blamed the House panel for the cancellation saying “no Foreign Minister of any independent country should be pressurised into meeting such politicians with their own agendas”.

The congresswoman’s hard-hitting opinion piece continues a back-and-forth between her and the US House panel on one side and the ministry of external affairs on the other into its seventh day even as some people on both sides are arguing it was time to “move on” as it has been seen to be overshadowing the wide swathe of outcomes and discussions accomplished at the 2+2.

Jayapal wrote that “it came as a surprise” that the Indian government had informed the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee that the external affairs minister will not attend the meeting if “I was present”. And, she added, chairman Eliot Engel, “rightly refused to accede to the demand; it is wholly inappropriate for any foreign government to try to dictate which members of Congress participate in meetings on Capitol Hill”.

The lawmaker repeated her widely reported criticism of the Kashmir restrictions, and went on to add the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which had come up at Jaishankar’s discussions with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the National Register of Citizens.

The congresswoman, who has been backed by senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris on the issue of the cancelled meeting, vowed not to be silenced. “As a member of Congress and as an Indian American, I will continue to speak out on fundamental principles of democracy such as freedom of the press, religious freedom and due process,” she wrote. “Protecting these rights — particularly in the most difficult of circumstances — is the only way democracies can survive and thrive.”

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